Clothes Shopping, Tarai Style

I decided today that it was time for a new salwaar kameez, the baggy-pants-and-long-shirt ensemble that women in India and Nepal often wear. I’ve got over my hang-ups about white girls looking weird in South Asian gear, but have not quite got up the courage to venture into saris yet as I have nightmares about putting them on wrong and ‘unravelling’ in public, but maybe this is something I will try in 2010.

You can buy salwaar suits off the shelf but the better – and more fun- thing to do is to go to choose the fabric yourself, and then head to the tailors to get it made up exactly how you want.

Buying Fabric in Biratnagar

Decisions, decisions...

I’m now firm friends with my tailor, Mohammed, after having had a couple of salwaar suits put together – and endless rips and tears in my western clothes repaired after they’ve taken a bashing on field trips, or at the hands of the dhobi.

Mohammed is the proud owner of Taj Tailors, a small tailoring workshop in a sidestreet in Biratnagar. Before opening the business, Mohammed had worked as a tailor for several years in Saudi Arabia. For many Nepali migrant workers doing blue-collar jobs, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States often turn out to be a hell-hole where they are underpaid, exploited and generally viewed as second class citizens. But when I ask Mohammed what he thought about Saudi Arabia, he smiles contentedly; he was happy to have the opportunity to be ‘in a good Islamic country, with other Muslims’ and to do the Hajj pilgrimage, which Muslims are obliged to make if they have the means. Muslims are a tiny minority in Nepal, and live mostly in the Tarai, near to the Indian border.

Mohammed and his friends always seem to be happy -and at times amused- when I try out a couple of Urdu phrases on them. Because I can speak a bit of Urdu (badly), and my name, Sophia, can also be a Muslim name (and sounds quite similar to ‘Safiyah’ too – another Muslim girl’s name which I think means ‘purity’), Mohammed and co. initially thought that I was Muslim too, and their eyes lit up hopefully ‘kya up Musulman hain?!’ .

They looked a bit disappointed when I told them that I wasn’t. Practically every time I go to the tailors, someone will protest ‘lekin Safiyah Musulman naam hai!‘ (‘but Safiyah is a Muslim name!)

Other topics of conversation are limited to what my Hindi/Urdu and their English can stretch to, but generally cover things like English weather, how many Muslim people there are in London and the frequency of strikes and roadblocks in Nepal.

Even when you go for some ‘retail therapy’ in the Tarai you end up discussing religion and politics. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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2 Responses to “Clothes Shopping, Tarai Style”

  1. Jane Common Says:

    Can’t you get him to make you some ASOS style copies Sophia – channel a bit of Chanel, Balenciaga etc etc? That would solve your dilemma about looking odd in the trad garb. Your blog is lovely, by the way. Jane (from Istanbul) XX

  2. Not a bad idea, Jane, might give that a try! Not sure what my tailor would think though but I think he’d be game for a challenge xx

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